Lesson 7: Ancient Arctic

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Enduring Understanding: What's the point?

In this lesson students will have the opportunity to explore Arctic fossils with one of the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) scientists.  Students will meet the scientist, learn about his career and research methods, and explore some of the collection of Arctic fossils found at the museum.  Through their explorations students will develop an understanding of how the environment can effect evolutionary change, and the ability to relate the complexity of the form and function of vertebrates to the evolutionary continuum of animals.

Essential/Guiding Question:

What can the Arctic fossil record tell us about the environment’s effect on evolutionary changes? How is the changing Arctic climate impacting the Arctic fossil record?

Curriculum Links:

Science, Earth Science, Biology, Geology

Lesson Framework:

Time required:

1 class period (could be shortened or extended depending on use of adaptations, enrichments, and extensions)


  • Computer lab or tablets/notebooks/laptop cart with internet access.
  • Method of recording observations and reflections

Lesson Content


Students should have some background knowledge of what fossils are and their importance in the study of life on Earth.


Show clip from the Ice Age movie: While the Ice Age series is for entertainment and contains scientific inaccuracies, many of the characters represent animals that once roamed the Earth. Why don’t we see animals like Manny, Sid, Diego, and Scrat today?


Bring in fossils to show the class and discuss how fossils are formed in nature.

Some video clips about the process of fossilization can be found online in various places such as


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5i5Qrp6sJU  http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/other-shows/videos/i-ardipithecus-i-how-fossils-are-made.htm


On the Expedition Arctic website, students will go through the “Team” link and select Kieran Shepherd in order to learn about Ancient Arctic.  While exploring the page by following along with Kieran, have students write down observations and reflections. You can use the suggested work sheets in Appendix A for recording thoughts and observations.  Have students think about the following:

Specific questions:

  • What is a fossil record?
  • What information can fossils tell us?
  • Where are fossils found?
  • How are fossils created and preserved?
  • What types of fossils does the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) have?
  • How do fossils link to evolution?
  • What makes Puijila darwini significant?
  • Are fossils becoming harder to find and if yes, why?

General questions:

  • What interested you the most?
  • What surprised you to learn?
  • What is one thing you would like to know more about?

Formative Assessment/Debrief:

Think-Pair-Share (Students are given time to think about their response to a specific question or topic, pair up with a partner and discuss, and then share their collective thoughts with the class or another pair).

  • Based on reflection questions
  • Based on guiding question

Have a class discussion based around reflection questions.

Split into small groups and create a poster answer to guiding question using flipchart paper.


Adaptations and Enrichments

Use a SMART Board to explore the site as a class, in part or in whole.

Choose one of the species presented on the website and research it further.

Explore the collections tab on the webpage.


Expand the activity by using Lesson 2: Explorations in Science to guide learning about Kieran and other CMN scientist’s careers to fulfill career expectations of science curriculum.

Link this lesson to the geology of the Arctic over time using Lesson 6: The Age of Ice

Explore how changes in the global climate are affecting the Arctic, and how this could in turn affect existing species in Lesson 8: Changing Climate.